Monday, May 5, 2008

Americana at Brand: First Impressions

The Franklin Avenue 3 wasn't originally planning on visiting the Americana at Brand this weekend; the idea of battling the traffic and crowds didn't appeal. Yet we couldn't resist, especially since we needed to return a few things at the Galleria.

So we parked at the Galleria -- free, after all -- and eventually made it across the street to the Americana. A few early thoughts... first on the plus side: I like the fact that it has more of a city vibe than the Grove; perhaps that can be chalked up to the residential spots above the retail. Perhaps it's also because the Americana opens up to Brand, an actual honest-to-goodness street. I also like the higher ceilings in much of the retail, which also brings a nice urban feel to Glendale.

What's more, the Americana is close enough to Franklin Avenue H.Q. that we will indeed be taking public transportation (the Glendale Beeline) there.

Now, the cons: C'mon, Rick Caruso, enough with the ego. Caruso's name is everywhere -- so much that several awnings are emblazoned with a "C" rather than an "A" (for "Americana") or even "E" (for the Excelsior residential condos and rentals). Also, as L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne notes, a debate over what's public space and what's not is inevitable. Because this was sold to Glendale voters as "Glendale's Town Center," and Glendale's redevelopment agency actually owns the two-acre green space at the center of the Americana, does Caruso have the right to severely restrict what is and isn't allowed there?

Hawthorne writes:

It will be intriguing to watch how the Americana's shared space--particularly the park--evolves and is used over time, particularly by residents of the complex. Will they treat it as their own front yard--which it basically is? What about the kids who live--and grow up--there? What if they want to ride a bicycle or skateboard there--will they be allowed to?

According to Dave Williams, Caruso's executive vice president for archi- tecture, they will not. "The open spaces will be handled the same way they're handled at the Grove," he told me. "Operationally, we have a safety threshold we want to maintain." That means no bikes and no skateboards, no dogs heavier than 25 pounds, plus a slew of other restrictions.

My guess is that those restrictions will prove to be more of an issue in Glendale than they've been at the Grove. It may not happen right away, especially if the first wave of residents includes more twentysomethings than families.

But as the Americana evolves, those residents may start to wonder why a public park at the foot of their apartment buildings is patrolled by Caruso's security team (if indeed that's what happens). If the private cops, who will be backed up by a substation staffed by Glendale police, start breaking up pickup soccer games or taking away skateboards, they may even start resenting it.

Some pics from our Saturday visit:

Check out that big camera stationed above the stoplight. Yes, You Are Being Filmed. Now go spend some money.

Cheesecake Factory? Check. Pacific Theatres? Check. Barnes & Noble? Check. Yup, it really is "The Grove East."

Jewel City Diner. (Trivia: Unless you live in Glendale, betcha didn't know "Jewel City" is the town's nickname.) Too bad this isn't a West Coast outpost of the Shake Shack -- damn, I'd be there every weekend.

Americana's don't-confuse-it-with-an-Eiffel-Tower-replica spire.

Residential, retail and Bellagio-style fountain.

Old timey ice cream. Wait, so is the Americana supposed to invoke 1930s, uh, Americana?

Meanwhile, across the street... the Glendale Galleria has added a few banners to what had been a random entrance -- but is now the gateway to the mall from the Americana. Inside, on Saturday the Galleria was jam-packed with people. Perhaps, for all of Galleria owner General Growth's handwringing, it's not going to hurt the mall. For starters, as the Galleria makes sure to stress, the original mall still boasts most major retailers, including Banana Republic, Gap, Apple, Target, etc.

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